Every year, the Vezina Trophy is awarded to the goalie that is judged to be the very best at his position over the course of an NHL season as voted by the NHL’s general managers.
The trophy originated in 1927 when it was named in honor of goaltender Georges Vezina who played for the Montreal Canadiens from 1910 until 1925. Past recipients of this revered accolade include legendary greats such as Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, and Martin Brodeur as well as current elitists like Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist, and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky, net minder for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is the current hardware holder after having a career year last season when he put up a .932 save percentage, a 2.00 goals against average, and recorded four shutouts. His 21-11-6 record carried the Blue Jackets to within a single point of making the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. To say the least, Bob rightfully deserved to be crowned king of the crease during the 2012-13 shortened season. However, it’s safe to assume there will be a new titleholder once all 30 general managers vote to determine their collective winner at the conclusion of this 2014 campaign. Let’s take a look at the top three candidates who all have the potential to dethrone Bobrovsky this summer.
3. Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens ( 32-19-5, .925 SV%, 2.36 GAA, 5 SO )
Let’s be honest, the Montreal Canadiens would not be in the comfortable position they are currently sitting in without the exceptional play of goaltender Carey Price.
Despite experiencing a minor rough patch in January where he allowed 17 goals combined over the course of four straight losses, Price has since been a backstop for the Canadiens who are now second place in the Atlantic Division with 95 points on the season.
The 26-year-old is a very sound goaltender when it comes to positioning. It seems as though he always manages to be in the right place at the right time regardless of where the opposing team’s shots are coming from. As a result, Price is a goalie who has the ability to give his team a chance to win against any team on any given night.
Additionally, although it may not mean much to the general managers casting their votes, Price was the heart and soul of Team Canada this year at the 2014 Sochi Olympics where he and his teammates successfully defended Canada’s previous gold medal performance in 2010. There was an immense amount of debate surrounding whom would be deemed Canada’s starting goaltender prior to the games kicking off in February, but Price undoubtedly made head coach Mike Babcock look quite intelligent when he finished the tournament 5-0 with a .972 save percentage and a 0.59 goals against average. He did not allow a goal for eight straight periods in the medal round, including shutouts of the US and Sweden. Also taking into account that the team in front of him struggled to put the puck in their opponent’s net at times, it makes it that much more impressive that Price was still able to lead them to the finish line. While it doesn’t seem entirely fair to factor in that achievement when the voting process begins, it’s definitely worth noting.
2. Ben Bishop – Tampa Bay Lightning ( 37-13-7, .926 SV%, 2.18 GAA, 5 SO )
After being acquired by the team in a trade that sent forward Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick to the Ottawa Senators last year, Ben Bishop has done nothing but put the Tampa Bay Lightning on his back and carry them to success.
With the devastating loss of their top scorer Steven Stamkos to a broken leg just 17 games into the season, the Lightning looked to their man between the pipes to pick up the slack, and that’s exactly what the 6-foot-7 net minder did as they sit in third place in the Atlantic Division with 93 points.
The sheer amount of growth as a player that Bishop has exhibited over this current campaign has been astounding. In his time with the Senators, and even at the very beginning of this year, he was never fully established as a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. The way he’s been able to progress and develop into not only a starter but also one of the top tier elites in the entire league has been incredibly exciting to watch. Bishop has without a doubt secured his spot in Tampa’s crease for a long time to come. His dependability and no-quit attitude have made him the go-to-guy on a nightly basis for his team and the way he’s playing this season only eludes to an even higher potential for the future as well.
Many within the hockey universe were appalled when Bishop was not selected to represent Team USA in this year’s Olympics. Statistically speaking, he was probably the one American goalie who deserved it most. Yet as shocking as it was, he didn’t let it affect his game whatsoever. Even after losing former captain Martin St. Louis who forced general manager Steve Yzerman to trade him to the New York Rangers at the deadline, Bishop has stood tall and never faltered. The reliable consistency he has provided his team with over the duration of this season proves that he has the utmost ability to lead the Lightning into this year’s playoffs and possibly even reach the Eastern Conference Finals. With that in mind, who knows how far he and the Bolts can go.
1. Tuukka Rask – Boston Bruins ( 34-15-5, .930 SV%, 2.04 GAA, 7 SO )
Following a 2011 Stanley Cup championship win in which he watched veteran goaltender Tim Thomas take all the glory, Tuukka Rask has since made quite the name for himself as he’s taken full reign of the Boston Bruins’ crease over the past two seasons.
The Savonlinna, Finland native has had an impeccable 2013-14 performance up to this point. He’s ranked fifth in the NHL in total wins, fourth in goals against average, third in save percentage, and first in shutouts recorded. While some may claim that Rask’s success comes directly from Boston’s superlative defensive play, the 27-year-old net minder is truly the iron core of the Bruins’ back end. He’s a goalie who makes saves when his team needs them the most. As much as he comes through in the clutch by stopping the tough, timely chances, his steady positioning coherently matched with his well-timed aggressiveness allows him to make the saves he’s supposed to make. It’s a goaltender like Rask who is so unbelievably stable in the blue paint that separates the good from the elite. He has an unwavering confidence about him, a swagger so to speak, that sets him apart from most other goalies in the league.
Despite losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in game six of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals after a late two goal flurry 17 seconds apart, Rask and the Bruins look razor-focused on getting back to that point and raising the cup for the second time in the last four years. The type of season Boston is having at the moment leads many to believe that they will again be squaring off against a Western Conference foe in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Whether or not they make it there, Rask will be the most essential component going forward on their journey.
Honorable Mention – Semyon Varlamov – Colorado Avalanche ( 39-14-5, .926 SV%, 2.47 GAA, 1 SO )
To see our Norris Candidates Click Here.
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